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Ugandan government 'was warned' of landslide tragedy

Uganda's government failed to heed warnings from scientists about the devastating landslides in the mountainous eastern part of the country last month and was not prepared for the disaster, an expert has said.

"The government had been warned of the impending disaster in Bududa — which lies on the slopes of Mount Elgon — by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA)," Arthur Makara, executive director of Uganda's Science Foundation for Livelihoods and Development, told SciDev.Net.

Makara said the UWA had advised the government on several occasions to relocate people from mountainsides left exposed from over-population to give the slopes a chance to "re-vegetate".

"But the government never took any action and the consequence has been the loss of lives," he said.

So far there have been no further landslides. But the heavy rain currently pounding the region is expected to continue until the end of May, according to Laz Ocira, an official from the Ministry of Relief and Disaster Preparedness.

Ocira said a much bigger disaster may be looming in Bududa's neighbouring district of Manafwa — another mountainous area in the Mount Elgon region.

"I've seen cracks [in the land] myself and in some points they are 1.5 metres deep. They could cause a slip at anytime."

Satellite images reveal that more heavily-cultivated land in the uppermost parts of the mountain is on the verge of sliding at any moment, said Festus Bagoora, a natural resources management specialist at NEMA.

"In all these districts, farming communities have encroached deeply into what were once pristine environments that had been national parks and forest reserves," he said.

"Encroachment on steep mountain slopes means a calamity. Once heavy rains pound such a place, then debris flow is inevitable and anything on the land will certainly be swept away," said Bagoora.

Makara called for education and awareness-raising for people who inhabit mountainous regions about avoiding cultivation along land contours and instead growing crops across them to cut the amount of water run-off.

"They should also be educated on the use of terracing and construction of bunds that would trap run-off, helping water retention in their fields and reducing soil erosion significantly," he said.

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